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Facebook giving $25M to news outlets for COVID-19 coverage

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Facebook gives $25M to local news publications for COVID-19 coverage

Facebook has committed to providing local news organizations in the U.S. and Canada with $25 million in grant funding and spending another $75 million on ads with news outlets worldwide.  The aim is to support an industry “working under extraordinary conditions to keep people informed during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a statement.

A first round of $5,000 grants went to 50 local newsrooms in the U.S. and Canada as part of the social media company’s COVID-19 Community Network grant program. The funds allowed The Post and Courier in South Carolina to take down its paywall for COVID-19 stories. The Southeast Missourian is using its grant to bolster remote work technology, and on plans to inform elderly readers should distribution be disrupted. In the Bay Area, the online news site Mission Local in San Francisco received a first-round grant.

In addition to the $100 million contribution, last year Facebook committed $300 million to support journalism.

“This money will not only help keep journalists reporting right now amidst the crisis, the funding will also fuel opportunities for local media to accelerate business transformation toward a more sustainable digital footing,” Nancy Lane, CEO of Local Media Association, said in a statement.

Photo of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder and CEO, courtesy of Facebook

Verily continues offering free COVID-19 tests to county residents

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Verily continues offering free COVID-19 tests at San Mateo Event Center

In its first two weeks since launching, Google’s sister company Verily has tested over 3,700 individuals for COVID-19 at drive-through sites in four counties, including at the San Mateo County Event Center.

The pilot program is initially offering drive-through testing sites to residents living near San Mateo (San Mateo County), San Jose (Santa Clara County), Lake Elsinore (Riverside County), and Sacramento (Sacramento County). To participate, applicants must go through online screening first at Verily’s Project Baseline website here. If they qualify, they are provided appointments at the nearest mobile testing site. Results come in roughly two to five days.

Photo: Still image from Project Baseline YouTube video

San Mateo County Event Center becoming temporary field treatment site

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san mateo county event center

A federal cache of critical supplies, including cots and medical equipment, were delivered to the San Mateo County Event Center on Sunday as the county preps for a projected surge in COVID-19 cases.

The National Guard is expected to be on site through Tuesday helping to set up the field treatment site featuring a capacity of up to 250 low acuity beds, according to county officials. While no patients will be immediately housed in the space, the effort proactively aims to expand capacity in case a medical surge overwhelms local hospitals.

The Event Center, owned and operated by the County, continues to be used to house a small number of patients in RVs who could not safely isolate at home, according to the City of San Mateo. The property also has a restricted drive-through testing site operated by Verily.

“We can’t just wait to see if this will happen,” County Manager Mike Callagy said. “We need to prepare now so that we can be ready to care for our friends, neighbors and loved ones when they need it most.”

San Mateo City Manager Drew Corbett called the effort a “major humanitarian effort to bring vital resources to our region.”

“Our city’s multi-agency emergency operations center will collaborate with our County partners to help ensure this critical health and safety operation runs smoothly in our community,” Corbett said.

Event Center CEO Dana Stoehr called it a “privilege” to provide support at this critical time.

To support the center’s operations, the County is asking residents and organizations for donations of personal protective equipment, including unused N95 respirators and surgical masks; unopened packages of disposable gloves; unopened containers of hand sanitizer; unopened containers of disinfectants and disinfecting wipes; and packaged, unused protective goggles. Personal protective equipment supplies can be dropped off Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Maple Street Correctional Facility, 1300 Maple St., Redwood City.

San Mateo County correctional population at 59 percent capacity

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San Mateo County correctional population at 59 percent of capacity

Since Feb. 29, the in-custody population at San Mateo County correctional facilities has been reduced by 186 people, or 19 percent, and law enforcement agencies are continuing to evaluate the early release of certain inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The County’s correctional system is operation at 59 percent of its rated capacity, “therefore should we need to quarantine individuals, we have that ability,” Sheriff’s Office Lt. Stephanie Josephson wrote in a statement Saturday.

“Recent changes in booking priorities, coupled with early releases, have significantly reduced our in-custody population,” Lt. Josephson said.

When evaluating early release cases, the Sheriff’s Office — which is working in partnership with the District Attorney, Private Defender Panel, Probation and courts — has prioritized age, medical condition and pregnancy. Pretrial individuals with bail of $15,000 or less and inmates with 60 days or less remaining to serve are being evaluated, Lt. Josephson said.

To date, no confirmed cases have been reported at County correctional facilities. Currently, all visits with inmates and in-person jail programs have been suspended, and anyone entering the facilities are being screened. All arrestees are screened outside the facility, which consists of a pre-booking questionnaire and medical screening. Arrestees displaying symptoms of COVID-19 who are medically cleared and must be booked are isolated in a medical housing unit, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Newly arrived inmates are housed in the Intake Housing Unit for 14 days before joining the jail’s general population.

Redwood City: Man steals school bus, crashes into 7 vehicles

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Redwood City police arrest registered sex offender on Sequoia High campus

A 23-year-old man was arrested today for stealing a yellow school bus, driving it erratically and crashing into seven parked vehicles, a median fence, signal light pole and PG&E transformer, police said.

Police responded to the area of Woodside Road and Middlefield Road about 9:43 a.m. after receiving numerous 911 calls about the large recklessly-driven school bus crashing into cars. Two minutes later, additional callers reported to police the bus had crashed into more vehicles and had come to a rest on top of an above-ground PG&E transformer in the Woodside Plaza shopping center parking lot.

While the suspect attempted to flee the bus, an off-duty San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputy quickly took him into custody, police said. The Redwood City Fire Department and PG&E responded to the scene to cut off power to the damaged transformer.

The investigation revealed that the suspect, identified as Redwood City resident Santos Miguel Murillocuellas, had broken into a locked and enclosed school bus storage yard at 1090 Mills Way, where he stole the bus. Police began receiving 911 calls shortly thereafter, police said.

“These vehicles and fixed objects sustained significant damage as a result of the incident,” police said, adding the collisions occurred on Woodside Road between Spring Street and Massachusetts. No one was injured in those collisions.

The suspect was booked into the San Mateo County Jail for vehicle theft, burglary, reckless driving, hit and run, and vandalism. Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to contact Traffic Sgt. Steve Fine at 650-780-7187.

Photo Credit: Redwood City Police Department

Feeding frontline workers sheds employment barriers for trainees

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Catering trainees feeding frontline workers also removing employment barriers

The caterer feeding hundreds of San Mateo County employees work on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic response, is also helping to remove employment barriers for local residents.

The team at Catering Connection, a Vocational Rehabilitation Services program by the San Mateo Human Services Agency, has been hard at work producing 140 meals daily that are delivered to four County sites, including the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Department of Corrections (DOC). Meals so far have included BBQ, fajitas, sandwiches, chicken and enchiladas.

“There are hundreds of employees who are working around the clock to monitor and coordinate the County’s response to serve our residents. It is the least we can do to feed those involved at the EOC and DOC levels,” the agency said.

For more about Catering Connection, visit their website.

For updates about San Mateo County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, go here.

Photo: Contributed

San Mateo County closes all parks until further notice

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San Mateo County Parks closed all 23 parks at 6 p.m. today until further notice in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A "surge" in visitors last weekend amid the shelter-in-place order prompted the decision. "During the past 11 days, park staff observed many visitors ignoring the Shelter In Place Order by driving to parks, congregating in groups and not maintaining six-feet of social distancing," the County said in a statement. “The decision to close parks is not easy, especially now when people are looking for outdoor experiences, but the safety of San Mateo County residents must always be a priority," San Mateo County Parks Director Nicholas Calderon said. Entrance gates are locked and "Park Closed" signs are posted at park and trail entrances, and park staff will be patrolling the parks.

San Mateo County Parks closed all 23 parks and trails it manages at 6 p.m. today until further notice in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A “surge” in visitors last weekend amid the shelter-in-place order prompted the decision. Before the decision, officials had planned to keep 17 of the parks open this weekend.

“During the past 11 days, park staff observed many visitors ignoring the Shelter In Place Order by driving to parks, congregating in groups and not maintaining six-feet of social distancing,” the County said in a statement.

“The decision to close parks is not easy, especially now when people are looking for outdoor experiences, but the safety of San Mateo County residents must always be a priority,” San Mateo County Parks Director Nicholas Calderon said.

Entrance gates are locked and “Park Closed” signs are posted at park and trail entrances, and park staff will be patrolling the parks.

 

Redwood City’s 4th of July Parade a coronavirus victim

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Redwood City’s 4th of July parade—an 80-year community tradition interrupted only once, by World War II—has been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The board of the Peninsula Celebration Association, the volunteer group which organizes the annual parade and festival downtown, says it made the decision in consultation with the city not to go forward with the event.

“The health, safety and well-being of everyone involved in the event is paramount,” the PCA said in a statement.

The PCA has sponsored and presented an Independence Day celebration featuring a parade since 1939, and a post-event festival became an added feature in the 1980s. The tradition has been broken only one year, during the war.

PCA President Bob Anderson said cancelling the parade was a difficult decision which the majority of the board supported, though it was not unanimous. The planning that needs to be done would be happening when people are supposed to be sheltering in place, and even after people return to work, mass gatherings may still be discouraged, he said.

Board members wanted to be proactive because other groups are already thinking of entering units or floats. “We didn’t want to have people work on their projects and then have it cancelled later,” he said. There was also a concern about encouraging other groups to gather together “because they should social distance from each other.”

Cancelling the parade “was the last thing all of us wanted to do because this is what we do,” Anderson said. “Everybody on the board who does this, we work year-round and we’ve been doing this for years. It’s part of who we are and it was definitely a difficult decision and we figured it’s the right time to make it.”

The focus now, he said, is on making the 2021 parade “an even bigger and better event.”

PCA Vice President Regina Kipp said the uncertainty about how long the coronavirus emergency will last made it difficult to do the necessary advance planning.

“We don’t know what’s going on with the pandemic and a lot of the decisions that we have to make have to be done early,” she said. “So rather than wait until the last minute, we decided to just go ahead and cancel.”

Porta-potties, for example, have to be ordered now. Insurance has to be secured, permits received and contracts made with vendors. It’s unknown how social distance parameters will affect the way the units have to line up, or if the people will have to be spaced apart lining up at food concessions. And it’s unknown whether by July people will still be too concerned about congregating to go to the parade.

“When you listen on television to what they’re saying, this is going to go on for quite a number of weeks,” Kipp said. “…It’s not like you can keep a six-foot distance when you’re lined up along the parade route.”

The city is responsible for putting on the fireworks show. Chris Beth, who heads Redwood City’s parks and recreation department, said the city’s fireworks vendor says many communities are postponing shows until next year.  In light of the cancellation of the parade, Beth imagines that the city will skip fireworks until next year but “we’ll have to consider this at a later date.”

Photo credit: Jim Kirkland, Climate Magazine

Some Edgewood Park trails converted to one-way to promote social distancing

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UPDATE: Following the publication of this story, San Mateo County Parks announced it was closing all parks until further notice to stop the spread of COVID-19, including Edgewood.

Friends of Edgewood Natural Preserve announced today that some trails have been designated as one-way in order to promote social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This will help people avoid crossing paths in narrow places, according to the group that works to protect and restore Edgewood’s unique native habitat and provide natural history programs. The map above shows which trails have transitioned to one-way.

Wider trails such as the Sunset, Serpentine, Old Stage Road and others will operate as usual, as they allow for safe passing distance of six feet. All scheduled, guided walks have been canceled at this time.

Park officials ask visitors to observe all the signs when using the trails. and recommend avoiding the park during the weekends, when trails are crowded.

Along with other parks in the area, Edgewood Park is closing certain parking lots to try and minimize the amount of park traffic.

New restrictions were recently imposed at San Mateo County beaches and parks following record visitation last weekend amid the shelter-in-place order. Parking lots at city and state coastal beaches have been closed to vehicles with the aim of reducing crowds. San Mateo County Parks has closed restrooms, playgrounds, all picnic areas, and visitor centers at all county parks. Flood Park, Friendship Park, Memorial Park, Sanchez Adobe and Woodside Store are completely closed. A full list of guidelines, modifications and parking lot closures are posted at parks.smcgov.org. Information on state parks can be accessed here: parks.ca.gov/FlattenTheCurve.

For a trail map, visit the Friends of Edgewood Natural Preserve’s Facebook page.

San Mateo County DA warns about fake at-home COVID-19 test kits, bogus cures

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San Mateo County DA issues price gouging alert due to coronavirus outbreak

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office released a new alert today about scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic, warning about offers of fake cures, at-home test kits and advice on unproven treatments, among others.

“While we have not had any cases submitted to us for such fraudulent conduct, we remain concerned about citizens be taking advantage of by Covid-19 scams,” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Wagstaffe’s alert (read full release here) shines a light on common scams reported around the country. Scammers have been…

  • Selling fake at-home test kits.
  • Soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
  • Offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
  • Creating fake businesses, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies, the crooks keep the money and never provide the merchandise.
  • Posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying information.

The community can protect themselves by relying on information related to COVID-19 from trusted sources like their personal health care provider and county, state and federal public health officials; to not click on links or open email attachments from unknown and unverified sources, to check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies to ensure they are legitimate with a good record; to research charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations; and to ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure or treatment.

To report a COVID-19 related scam in San Mateo County, contact the District Attorney’s Office at (650) 363-4651, call your local police department, or visit here.

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